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Ex-Prime Minister in Irvine : Harold Wilson Maps Challenges for West

April 16, 1988|SANTIAGO O'DONNELL | Times Staff Writer

Three-time British Prime Minister Harold Wilson told an Irvine audience Friday night that the main challenges facing the West are how to react to the Soviet economic crisis and how to deal with nuclear issues.

Wilson, who was Prime Minister of Britain longer than any other man in peacetime, entertained with his quick wit an audience of close to 800 people at the South Coast Community Church.

He said that he has no answers to the challenges the West is facing but that he believes that the United States is "playing its cards with great skill, ability and determination."

The former Labor Party leader could not propose concrete solutions because he said he no longer has access to Western classified documents.

He added: "And I hope (Soviet leader Mikhail S.) Gorbachev doesn't, either," causing the audience to erupt in laughter.

Urges Stronger Ties With Chinese

Throughout the lecture, Wilson recalled his tenure as aide to Winston Churchill during World War II, his travels to Moscow to negotiate trade agreements and his diplomatic missions to China, a country with which the United States and Britain should "strengthen their ties to the degree that (the Chinese) are free to do so."

As for the Soviet Union, Wilson said he had "considerable respect" for Gorbachev, but he that he was unsure that the Soviet leader had enough power to impose his will on his country's bureaucracy.

Wilson was less kind to Japan, a country he said was "undermining Western economies."

He added with a grin, "Recently I have noticed that they (the Japanese) are having financial difficulties, and I am terribly sorry to hear that."

Playing Golf With President Johnson

Wilson got his biggest laugh when he recalled playing golf with President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"I shot a 76 (a respectable score for one round), and the President was in triple figures, so a discussion followed," Wilson said straight-faced.

"We were trying to decide whether to play the final nine holes."

The former prime minister was born in Yorkshire in 1916 and was first elected to Parliament in 1945. In 1963, he became the leader of the Labor Party, and a year later he was elected Prime Minister.

Wilson served in that capacity until 1970, and again in 1974-76. During his tenure, he oversaw Britain's entry into the European Common Market and the NATO alliance. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

Retired now, Wilson frequently travels and gives lectures.

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